Penal system at risk of reversing progress of recent years

Penal system at risk of reversing progress of recent years

Molly Joyce

Ireland’s prison population is growing despite government commitments to reduce prisoner numbers and welcome progress in the areas of mental health and overcrowding is at risk of being reversed, the government has been warned.

The Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT) today launched its annual Progress in the Penal System (PIPS) report for 2022, the sixth such report assessing the State’s penal system across standards set in 2017.

The average number of people in prison increased by eight per cent from 3,794 in 2021 to 4,095 in 2022, the report notes, while the average number of people held on remand increased by 23 per cent from 711 to 875.

Molly Joyce, acting executive director of IPRT, said: “The increasing numbers of people in prison, and subsequent overcrowding across the prison estate in Ireland, is extremely disappointing.

“Concerted efforts to successfully reduce the number of people in prison as part of the Covid-19 response have now been reversed, resulting in a prison system that is on its knees.

“It is difficult to overstate the impact of overcrowding on every aspect of prison life, from access to family contact to key rehabilitative services such as education and work/training to basic entitlements such as access to a bed.

“We know, for example, that in December 2022 there were 2,408 instances of prisoners sleeping on mattresses and — as of 1 December 2022 — there were 104 prisoners sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Such conditions undermine the dignity afforded to people in prison.”

She added: “Further information is needed to understand why the remand prison population is increasing and — more crucially — work must be done to expand the various alternatives to remand that are available.

“This could include, for example, expanding bail support schemes that enable a person to remain in the community while awaiting trial.”

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